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Center Theatre Group offers 100,000 $20 tickets for 2008-09

October 23, 2008 |  6:30 am

In a preemptive strike to keep audiences from trading an evening of theater for TV and a frozen pizza during troubled economic times, Center Theatre Group is announcing a new "Entertainment Stimulus Package" that will make available 100,000 tickets at $20, available for all performances at all three of its theaters --the Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas -- for the entire 2008-09 season.

Michael_ritchie CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie and Jim Royce, director of marketing and communications, say the idea is to keep the economy from squeezing the middle class -- that is, habitual buyers of midprice tickets.

Although the economic climate has little effect on those who can afford the top-priced seats, during times of recession, regular theatergoers who buy in the middle don't just stay home, "but they look for bargains," Royce says. "What we've done structurally is expand to accommodate the squeeze of the middle, the big middle."

The new program represents a sort of mega-version of CTG' s existing Hot-Tix Program, which offers about 30,000 $20 tickets each season but restricts buyers to two tickets -- and admittedly tends to offer seats with poorer sightlines. In the new program, there are no restrictions on the number of tickets an individual can buy -- and, because the higher numbers make available more seats, the likelihood of finding better seats is increased, CTG officials say. "They are spread around, but they are good seats," Ritchie says.

Hot-Tix will still be available as a separate entity, but their numbers are being counted among the 100,000, and there probably will be fewer than the 30,000 offered in previous season.

Also unlike Hot-Tix, which usually become available three weeks before a performance, Entertainment Stimulus Package tickets go on sale as soon as advertising begins for a show, usually four or five weeks before opening night.  And while Hot-Tix can still be purchased only in person or by phone, the new tix can be purchased online at the website.

So does the fact that the initials for the new program are "ESP" mean that CTG, like other local theaters, is seeing lean times for theaters in its crystal ball?

Well, yes and no.  Both Ritchie and Royce say the season-opening productions at the Ahmanson and the Taper -- "9 to 5: The Musical" and John Guare's play "The House of Blue Leaves," respectively, enjoyed healthy ticket sales "just short of " projected levels despite the economy.

While he wouldn't give out the numbers, Royce says revenue for "9 to 5" was hurt because previews were delayed because of technical problems. And in the case of "House of Blue Leaves," he says, expectations that audiences would flock to the Taper because of its $30-million redesign led to too-aggressive projections for ticket sales. 

Ritchie says the somewhat disappointing numbers "sent up a flag for us that, you know what, you should do something aggressive, and advanced, that has the appropriate amount of risk to the box office -- and we think the risk balances out."

And is it fair that one person can come in buy out all the "ESP" tickets for a show?  Ritchie laughs at this question. "We would get what we want out of it -- on our end, selling tickets is the primary purpose."

-- Diane Haithman

Photo: CTG Artistic director Michael Ritchie

Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

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